War in Ukraine endangers endangered eagles

The war in Ukraine changes the route of endangered migratory eagles and puts them in danger.

A study published in the journal Current biology found that great spotted eagles during their migration through the war-torn country in 2022 faced multiple conflicts that changed their usual migration path. The eagles are a vulnerable species listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, meaning the consequences of the war are of great concern to them.

“Polesia – a large wetland area straddling the border between Belarus and Ukraine – is a major stronghold for great spotted eagles in Europe, with 150 pairs breeding here,” said Charlie Russell of Britain’s University of East Anglia, an author of the study. Newsweek.

“Most birds in this population will have migrated through or are staying in areas affected by the conflict,” he continued. “Any impact on this population, including adult mortality or reduced breeding success, would be significant for the conservation of an already struggling species.”

Great spotted eagle flies
A stock photo shows a greater spotted eagle in flight. Researchers have found that the war in Ukraine has drastically affected the species’ migration path.


Researchers from the University of East Anglia, the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the British Trust for Ornithology have been tagging these eagles since 2017 to learn more about them. Russia then invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This was shortly before 21 of the tagged eagles entered the border with Ukraine via their usual migration route.

On March 3, the first of 21 tagged greater spotted eagles crossed into Ukraine during their usual migration, the study reported. Using GPS data, the researchers discovered that during times of conflict, the eagles used far fewer regular stopover sites than normal. This alone was concerning, as eagles use these stopovers to hunt, hydrate and shelter. Researchers also found that eagles began to change their usual routes.

Overall, aberrant migration patterns caused the eagles to reach their breeding grounds too late. All of the eagles examined survived, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer any adverse effects.

“Armed conflict can have far-reaching consequences for the environment, including changes in animal behavior,” Russell said in a statement.

He continued: ‘Our research provides the first quantitative evidence for this, showing how migrating eagles diverted to avoid conflict events and spent less time refueling at stopovers. It also indicates that there is potentially a lot of human activity, besides wars, that probably “We didn’t expect to be tracking these birds as they migrated through an active conflict zone.”

Migration of great spotted eagles
A graph shows the distribution, migration and stopovers of greater spotted eagles in Ukraine.


This study was unexpected, but provided researchers a rare opportunity to analyze how human conflict affects nature. Although it has always been clear that such conflicts negatively impact nature, the exact effects are difficult to investigate.

Based on their findings, the researchers say post-conflict recovery should focus more on local ecosystems.

“We do not believe the conflict will affect the species’ long-term migration patterns,” Russell said Newsweek. “Our results most likely involve encountering immediate or sporadic events that cause the eagles to respond by flying further to avoid events and making fewer stops. Cumulatively, this will result in reduced fitness as they enter the breeding period, which could have slowed reproduction and affected reproduction.” ability of parents to hatch or care for their young.”

He said researchers will continue to monitor the effects of the war on greater spotted eagles.

“Understanding the impact of conflict on the environment is a growing area of ​​research, and studies like this will help us support not just greater spotted eagles, but entire ecosystems as they recover in a post-conflict environment,” he said.

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